Hockey World Cup | It is important to get good results in group stage, asserts Viren Rasquinha

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Hockey World Cup | It is important to get good results in group stage, asserts Viren Rasquinha

Viren Rasquinha has stated that the Indian team needs to get good results from the matches in the pool stage so that they can get a better draw in the later stages of the World Cup. The former captain mentioned that the team for the tournament has been selected as per the fitness and recent form.

India will be playing its Pool C matches against South Africa, Belgium and Canada at the upcoming Hockey World Cup starting from today at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar. The first game for the hosts will be against the South Africans while their biggest test at the pool stage is going to be against Belgium which is places higher than India in FIH rankings. According to the format of the tournament, the topmost team of all the four tables will directly qualify for the quarter-finals while the teams finishing second and third in each pool will have to play crossover games to get a berth in the Top eight. 

Former Indian captain Viren Rasquinha is of the opinion that the Indian team needs to put up a good show in the pool stage and that will make their path easier in the knock-out rounds. He even cited the example of the 2016 Rio Olympics during an exclusive chat with SportsCafe.

“At this level of the World Cup, you can’t take any team lightly. In my opinion, possibly Belgium is the best team in the world at the moment. They have been one of the most consistent units for the last five to six years. They are playing almost with the same team for the last few years. It is a very strong team with very good understanding and is going to be a huge obstacle for us,” Rasquinha told SportsCafe.

“As far as Canada and South Africa are concerned India is favourites for both the matches. But, if you look at the Rio Olympics in the last league game we drew with Canada because of which we played Belgium in the quarter-finals and it was not the best of the draws for us. You can’t take any team lightly. We start as firm favourites on paper against Canada and South Africa but can’t be complacent against both sides. It’s important to get a good result from the group stage to give us a good draw for the matches ahead.” 

Rasquinha also spoke about the Indian team’s performance in 2018 and also commented on the team combination for the World Cup under the captaincy of Manpreet Singh with Harendra Singh at the helm of the affairs as the head coach. The Indian side failed to win a medal at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games while despite being the favourites finished third at the Asian Games. The Manpreet Singh-led side, however, remained unbeaten at the Asian Champions Trophy held in Oman last month. However, in June, India had finished as the runners-up of the Champions Trophy Hockey played in the Netherlands after losing to Australia in the finals.

Viren Rasquinha during an exhibition game at Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar © Twitter

“I think it will be early to think of winning the world cup right now. We didn’t win a medal at the CWG, we were favourites at the Asian Games but couldn’t do that well. I don’t think that the team has a lot of confidence going into the World Cup. It is a fairly inexperienced team with a lot of youngsters. It’s going to be very difficult, to be honest, and they need to take it one match at a time,” the 38-year-old explained.

“We definitely have a few experienced players like PR Sreejesh, Manpreet Singh and Birendra Lakra, even Akashdeep Singh. You can’t call Manpreet a young captain because he has played more than 200 matches He has been there for a long time and knows how to take it to the highest level. A lot of juniors in the team also and I am not always a fan of going into big tournaments with too many juniors. You need a little bit of combination of experienced and the juniors in the team. It remains to be seen whether Harendra has got the balance in the team. This is the first instance after a long long time that an Indian team for World Cup or Olympics has not been selected on the basis of reputation.

"They have been selected on form and fitness as the team is extremely fit and there is no injury issue at all. Fittest players currently in form have been picked up by Harendra. In a tournament as important as a World Cup it is not an 11-member team and is all about the 18-member squad. The teams are making a lot of rolling substitutions per match and the role of every member in the team is very important. You can’t just play with 11-12 players and want everyone to be extremely fit.”

The team has been practising at the World Cup venue since September this year as Hockey India first named a 25-member pool and then after the Asian Champions Trophy, it was a 34-member core group which attended the national camp in Bhubaneswar under Harendra. He took over the charge before the Champions Trophy in earlier this year and as per Rasquinha, he has a huge role to play in this team.

“Of course playing under Harendra for a long time makes a difference. The team is practising under him for a long time, almost the entire squad has played under him here. They know how his mind works and have an idea about his strategies and Harendra knows the players very well. It works both ways and it’s a very good thing. As far as the composition goes, he is there day in and day out and his say in the selection should have been important. This is Harendra’s team, he has decided what it is, who are the team members going to be and like I said he focussed on current form and fitness which is a very good thing,” the 38-year-old former Olympian said.

Speaking about the venue for the World Cup, where he got a chance to enjoy playing at the refurbished hockey complex in an exhibition game between Dilip Tirkey XI and Dhanraj Pillay XI, Rasquinha expressed, “The crowd support plays a major role. I have been there before and seen the Indian team playing, the crowd support is enormous. The players want the stadium packed to the rafters and that will definitely help the Indian team. We see the most knowledgeable and passionate hockey crowd in Bhubaneswar and I wish, I was 10 years younger and played for India at the World Cup.”

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